Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Class Distinctions on Campus Hurt Morale and Customer Service

After a teleconference on customer service I gave today, an email question came in from one of the participants. It dealt with an important issue of class distinctions in universities, colleges and schools that hurts morale and retention. The issue is an extension of George Orwell’s description of colleges as an animal farm. As stated by Dean Snowball.

All members of an academic community are created equal, only some are more equal than others, and I’m not just talking about faculty here

Here is the question:

One of my co-workers would like to know what you think of a school policy that requires some staff personnel to log in their hours each day, while other co-workers (considered professional staff, mainly because they have earned a college degree) are not required to keep weekly time sheets. It is a matter that many consider unfair and somewhat demeaning.

And here is my response:

I believe that is a mistake on a number of counts. First, it hurts any possible sense of a team throughout the institution. Having two or three classes of people in a college makes a statement that the institution has a sense of a class system. Sort of like Orwell – All animals are created equal but some are more equal than others” A tiered structure like this has to have harmful effects on at least some of the people at the college. And that will in turn harm the levels of service to students and the internal community as well. I am willing to bet that this procedure also has a negative effect on employee and student retention.

The system also says that some people are more trustworthy than others. Those who do not have to punch in are by inference more honest than those we make punch in. We believe the non-punchers will not cheat on their time sheets. There is no evidence that this is true at all by the way.

It also separates “professionals” from “non-professionals”. Nothing is more destructive than demeaning the contributions of the staff who fall into the non-professional designation. Everyone is a professional and has value and a purpose within their work area and concentration and should be so recognized. Those who do not act in a professional manner, no matter what the title, role or salary, need to be replaced.

The systems are usually put into place because of management problems. Usually supervisors cannot manage and be responsible for their staff and their time reporting. Some are afraid to direct people to show up on time and work their hours. They are concerned that if they have to reprimand or direct someone to remedy their behavior, they will either not be liked or a bad worker will rebel, maybe even quit. They simply do not know or want to do the hard part of the job which is to direct and manage the staff. Breaks the “family” feeling after all. Need to train them to realize that they will be a family either way – just a dysfunctional family at some level, as are all families. And dysfunctional is not so bad after all. Just the norm.

Bottom line. Install a team and instill a drive to do good work by appropriate leadership and customer service to employees. Again recall that customer service does not mean pandering. It means treating people with dignity, honesty and when needed, clear, firm yet humane correction. If people are cheating on their time, correct them. If they cannot be corrected, that is an issue of integrity and honesty so start progressive discipline and have them move on rather than harm the entire internal community which in turn has a negative effect on retention and population. That would serve the community better than a caste system.

Hope that is not too blunt but it is what I know and feel. If I can help out again, just let me know.

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